Study of the sonorous archeology and the whistle of death

18/02/2021

By means of a scientific analysis of the wind chimes and noise generators of the pre-Hispanic era, new data were obtained that deepen their sonorous function and their acoustics were reproduced. It is an investigation generated from the finding of a fragment of a wind sonador or "whistle of death", from the formerly called Cerro Mazatépetl, today Cerro del Judío.

Often, studies of ancient cultures observe the past in silence, as if our ancestors and ourselves were deaf, but it is not possible to imagine any of their important activities in silence, since they always used their sounds. Sound artifacts were considered sacred, they were widely used and appreciated at all levels of ancient societies, for religious, military, and civil activities.

By definition, whistles are instruments that produce a single sound. From a musical point of view, they are considered the simplest, because they produce a single note.

Some people despise them because they are considered toys, as they were used as such in the medieval cultures of Europe. The reality indicates that the Mesoamerican whistles are more complex than it is thought; they existed in great diversity and had many other uses.

Several whistles are mentioned in chronicles and appear in iconography, but most of them lost their original designation during the Conquest and the pre-Hispanic Colonial period. Nevertheless, among the wind artifacts that have been recovered, globular and tubular, single and multiple aerophones, trumpets, and mainly the noise generators stand out, which represent the ancient lapidary objects that have been found in greater quantity.

Used from the Preclassic to the Postclassic -400 B.C to 1300 A.D-, in diverse moments of the daily life of the pre-Hispanic cultures, the sonadores or whistles that have a skull or tecolote face, have been linked to mortuary ceremonies practiced by the Mexica and Maya, although little has been studied so far.

In spite of being incomplete, the fragment found in the Mazatépetl, allowed deepening on the form in which it was constructed, because its sonorous mechanism is intact. Moreover, it still generates the sounds of its substantive function, as in the past, which facilitated its formal examination.

The sonorous mechanism of the also called spring aerophones, is stimulated with air injected through the orifice of a conduit that passes to the chaos chamber, and from there to a semicircular chamber without exit, which causes the blow to return and collide with the one that enters, generating a complex turbulent dynamics that produces the singular noise.

Likewise, through the use of special techniques, such as wave dynamics, spectral, acoustic, physiological-auditory, organological, constructive, experimental, and functional, among others, other types of uses that these objects may have had among pre-Hispanic cultures have been studied in depth.

Whistles have been important, due to their light weight and size, their portability, their high perceived power, and their sonorous range (from 300 to 500 meters); for the height of their sounds, since most of them generate signals with fundamental frequencies within the range of maximum human sensitivity and that of several animals such as birds.

Therefore, these instruments are excellent for key communication applications or signals that could have been used in military activities, even as weapons. Whistles can also generate special effects on the brain.

Based on physical-auditory studies, it has been determined that these pre-Hispanic instruments stimulate the cerebral cortex. If two death whistles are played simultaneously, complex infrasonic beats are produced that generate altered states of consciousness; psychedelic and hallucinogenic. 

For example, a large whistle can generate harmful sounds or infrasonic beats that can have negative effects on health, or, in the opposite case they can contribute to the physical and mental health of the people who perceive them.

The study on the functioning of pre-Hispanic sonorous artifacts, should not be approached from the point of view of western music, since these objects besides being manufactured in stone and mud, were also made of perishable materials such as hard shells of fruits or seeds, bone, reed, and marine snails, that is to say, they lack melodies and rhythms.

Some are represented in the iconography, as in the murals of Bonampak, where two trumpets stand out, and because of the way they are held by the performers, it is believed that they were made of bule or guaje.

By Mexicanist, Source: INAH